If you’re reuniting with the team behind seven-time Olivier Award winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and your production features acting icons like Kenneth Cranham and Annie-Marie Duff, naturally there are some exceedingly high expectations to be made. A tiresome debut for Elliott Harper Productions then comes in the form of Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle.
Simon Stephens’ play begins with a random encounter between two people, 42-year-old Georgie played by Anne-Marie Duff and 75-year-old Alex played by Kenneth Cranham, at a train station. Obviously this leads to her stalking him online and his butchery shop, then a first date, a one night stand and obviously a life-changing trip to New Jersey with all of this feeling like a week long.
What bothers me is that each of these stages in the storyline is decided upon by Anne-Marie Duff’s character, Georgie. She swears at Kenneth regularly, forcing him to change his lifestyle, saying that he’s too old and that he needs to experience life more. Duff’s tone is constantly aggressive and full frontal with little variety throughout that it comes across as a bullying, tiresome attack on Cranham’s character. I can never believe this is a real relationship, and instead believing it’s Cranham against his metaphorical demons and doubts.
There are no high or memorable moments in Stephens’ script, with the last two scenes honestly having me wish that the play would end sooner. There were several points where it could have concluded and kept the relationship fresh, rather than leaving it at an ending where both characters are still yet to achieve anything mid-way through their quickly organised break to New Jersey and Georgie’s family focused objective.
With the team behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, obviously the staging is great. Clean slated, neon lit, made up of quadrilaterals, it feels futuristic to watch with each scene transition accompanied by incredibly pleasant electronic music. Even the set changes add context behind both characters in their closing and opening of space in physical relation to both actors on stage.
What’s puzzling is that this piece between two people is made for a much more intimate space than a four tier theatre. By having it in this space, you’re waiting for more spectacle with account to a dramatic turn in the storyline. But really, despite how unbelievable Georgie and Alex’s relationship is, this is a predictable storyline with each scene forced upon by Duff’s character and Cranham’s character having to deal with each stage in the plot. Not only is he dragged around by the slow and forgettable plot, but I certainly felt like it too.
Just because you have theatre royalty on stage and an award-winning creative team doesn’t guarantee a successful result, as proven with Heisenberg.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly